Local Flavor: NamesCon 2016 Discussion of GeoDomains and CityTLDs

Katrin Ohlmer (l)and Lori Anne Wardi (r) discuss adventures in CityTLDs.

NamesCon 2016 Begins

Namescon 2016 kicks off on a sunny Las Vegas morning. NamesCon co-founder Jothan Frakes welcomed the crowd: "This very first day is for people who want to learn a whole lot more about the industry." Over 1,200 people have registered for this, the third edition of NamesCon: old-school pros and newcomers alike, Frakes noted, "A lot of new faces have come into the industry."

This Sunday Session is focused on the Network Lane. Smaller, more intimate gatherings segued into smaller conversations as conference attendees got to know each other and reconnect with old friends.

Where You At: GeoDomains and City TLDs

Panels convened around Topic Tables, so let's check in on one of them. GeoDomains and CityTLDs saw a crowd of attendees flocked to round tables to discuss the finer aspects of this complicated industry. At a discussion on GeoDomans and City TLDs, Katrin Ohlmer, CMO of dotBERLIN GmbH & Co. K, said that Germans like domain names, so a lot of them have .de names. "Switching from .de to .berlin becomes a bigger priority." Ohlmer and her team got some high-profile brands, including venues and music clubs to switch from .de to .berlin: "You all know Berlin is famous for the best house and techno clubs." Despite having more letters, .berlin is easier to say and it's more memorable. Small shops and restaurants are quick to adopt .berlin, said Ohlmer, as are hotels. In terms of market share, Katrin held her thumb and index fingers rather close together: they have 60,000 names registered at the moment, with 1.3 million .de names held by Berliners. The city of Berlin itself, added Ohlmer, has done nothing to create awareness of the new digital real estate.

By contrast, Lori Anne Wardi, VP, Registry Services at Neustar, said that the City of New York is "very, very active" in promoting .nyc, as part of "moving their tech agenda forward." The City of New York has given the .nyc registry a lot of advertising resources, by way of in-kind support. Wardi said that the fundamental question was, "What's gonna make us stand out?" They organized a fake protest against "lame domain names."

Edmon Chung, CEO of DotAsia Organisation Ltd, said that .asia had gone big with celebrity endorsements, with superstars like Jackie Chan (Rumble in the Bronx) and Stephen Chow (Kung-Fu Hustle). They also had free tablets for those who signed up and became members of .asia. Early adopters were part of what was called the Pioneers Program, a strategy which Wardi says was used for .co: "If you leave it only up to the registrar to sell and don't include some humanity, you miss a lot of opportunities." She added with a laugh, "We threw a lot of spaghetti at the wall to see what happened!"

"For .nyc, only New Yorkers can register them," noted Wardi, and this is the case with many GeoDomains. There's an authentication and challenge system to keep it in the Five Boroughs. (This glides past the age-old argument of what constitutes a "real New Yorker".) .co, though was meant to be a global domain. Wardi lobbied Google for ages for it to be recognized as such. Eventually .co got classified as a ggcTLD.

Joe Alagna, V.P. Channel Development at 101domain, Inc., said, "A theme that I'm seeing here is find people who are already using [CityTLDs] in the wild." Use those examples of successful locally-used domains as an advertising tool for localization itself. Chung again mentioned the leveraging of celebrities. Big concerts now use .asia, as the domain is being established as appropriate for huge or international acts.

Reaching new customers can be done at the "point of inception," said Wardi, so she shows up at hackathons and shared workspaces to catch startups at their embryonic stages. (55% of .nyc registrations come from individuals, she notes, with the rest coming from businesses). Ohlmer said that German companies must register with the local Chamber of Commerce, and therein lies the opportunity to present the .berlin option for all those already-taken .de names. Chung says he's gearing up to talk to real estate agencies as a chance to get commercial customers before they've even thought up the names for their restaurants or bars.

"I see a lot of registries today making the mistake of disintermediating their registrars," said Alagna: they're either trying to hard to compete on price, or not giving CityTLDs enough resources to adequately market themselves. There's gotta be room for people to be able to make money."

But how do you get found? SERP rankings is still an issue for local domain names, even after .co differentiated itself from typos of ".com". Alagna said that getting CItyTLDs treated equally to their international cousins would be a win. One suggestion from the table was a GeoDomain-based search engine that only indexed that domain. That, though, would be a very steep uphill battle.

Only the Beginning

NamesCon 2016 is heating up. Keep an eye on our Twitter and Instagram feeds, as well as checking back in on the blog.